Open Source: A GUI Minimalist Tries e17

… and likes it … well, mostly. Hopefully this article will help you if you are searching for that “just right for me” GUI on your Unix/Linux system. But be sure to give e17 a try yourself, do not just pass it over because of anything you may read on the web.

For years now I have been a die-hard GUI minimalist relying on light window managers / desktops such as fluxbox, Window Maker and XFCE4. As such, I was dismayed when the Mandriva Linux distribution decided to drop official support for all GUI options other than its in-house “ROSA” interface. When I found that information and added it to the other disappointing news coming from Mandriva I decided to move on along to Mageia Linux. After that move was completed I decided to take a look at the other desktop options available. While looking at these I saw e17 listed. This is e17 version 0.16.999.55225 for those of you who want to know version numbers. I had seen e17 listed in the package management system for Mandriva in the past, installed it and taken a brief look at it. But I had never decided to give it a real try. This time, I decided to use e17 for at least a month and not use any other desktop or window manager. That was around the middle of September 2011, it is now into the second week of December 2011 and I am still using e17 … for now. Following are my impressions, likes and dislikes regarding e17 so far:

e17 Impressions

  • Appears to take very few resources, which appeals to my GUI minimalist mind.
  • Seems a bit rough around the edges in a few places.
    • Auto-hide of the shelves stops working sometimes. Have to open the settings dialog for a shelf and save it again to “fix” this.
    • At times the Taskbar gadget running in a shelf mishandles / overlaps / truncates the items that it shows running on a desktop. Opening the shelf settings dialog and saving again “fixes” this.

e17 Likes

  • One can configure keyboard shortcuts for pretty much anything.
  • One can change the mouse context menus to match what one prefers, such as right click the desktop for the Main menu.
  • One can quickly switch workspaces just using ALT + Fn keys.
  • One can have multiple desktop background images on a per-workspace basis.
  • One can have multiple shelf objects and have them auto-hide to maximize the usable screen area.
  • All the e17 settings appear to be saved in the ~/.e directory. Making it easy to backup and restore custom settings.
  • Does not start out with a lot of garbage add-ons loaded that one then has to disable or remove to get a streamlined GUI.

e17 Dislikes

  • Binary configuration files?! What?!
    (This will be the reason I end up eventually abandoning e17. I truly loathe the use of binary configuration files under unix-like systems. That is just wrong. Use of plain text for configuration files and log files is one of the primary reasons I love unix-like systems as well as fluxbox, Window Maker and XFCE4. Being able to repair problems or tweak settings by hand in a plain text file from a command line is a big plus for me.)
  • Apparently e17 handles windows so differently from fluxbox, XFCE4, Window Maker, KDE and GNOME that my favorite screen capture tool, Shutter, cannot find windows of which to take snapshots. There is a screen capture application included for e17, but it has fewer options and functions than Shutter.
  • When my X sessions kept crashing due to a bad graphics card recently, e17 lost all my custom settings after one such crash. While this can be recovered from a backup of one’s /home/user directory while at a command line without e17 running, this is at minimum very annoying. Of course loss of all settings happened to me when I used some KDE4 applications for a while too. So this is not just an e17 problem.

As a GUI minimalist my concerns are not glitz, glitter, bells and whistles. I want function over form. If the GUI does what I want it to do with as little memory, CPU and GPU use as possible, which means less power consumption, then I could not care less about transparency, wobbly windows and fire burning up my closing windows. If the GUI is pretty as well, that is just a bonus.

Since Mageia did include e17 0.16.999.55225, which is a “work in progress” release, it is possible to probable that some of the problems I note here have been fixed in subsequent releases. The latest “snapshot” release of e17 as of the time if this article is 0.16.999.65643. As I do not go outside my distribution’s package management system for anything other than a few games I will just have to wait for Mageia to catch up with the latest release of e17 to see what is fixed and what is not.

For the most part, I am favorably impressed with e17. However, the use of binary configuration files is a serious enough personal problem for me that I will eventually move back to one of my favorite GUIs. Of course if the enlightenment desktop team changes course and begins to use plain text files to store configuration data, well, I may just decide to add enlightenment desktop to my small list of favorite GUIs. I am not going to hold my breath waiting for that though.

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